June 15, 2004
Making Recreation and Agriculture Compatible
By Kindra Gordon
June 2004 -- It's been an all too common occurrence: Usually when development for housing or recreation moves into an area, it is at the expense of agriculture, which is forced to move.
But near Park City, Utah, Steve Osguthorpe and his family have worked with developers to maintain their sheep operation and make it compatible with the nearby ski resort, The Canyons, which has grown to be North America's fifth largest ski area.
As one would expect, snow skiing is the primary activity on the mountainous land during the winter months. But in the summer and fall, nearly 3,000 sheep graze the grassy ski runs and resort lands -- even while tourists enjoy the scenic beauty of the area.
"Recreation and agriculture can be compatible," says Osguthorpe of the unique arrangement.
He reports that it has been a win-win situation for his family farm and the resort.
"The developers of the resort wanted to keep the area natural, and visitors really seem to enjoy seeing the sheep out grazing," he says.
Keeping agricultural use on the land also has helped the resort keep its taxes lower.
For the Osguthorpe family, the arrangement has meant they can stay in the area on which Steve's father, Dr. D. A. Osguthorpe, first established the ranch in the late 1940s. As another benefit, Osguthorpe says, "It's an opportunity to show the public that we ranchers are stewards of the land and want to take care of it better than anyone else."
A Long History of Stewardship
Of the region that now attracts more than 500,000 visitors each year, Osguthorpe admits many people might have sold their ranch and moved to a less touristy area. But he says his family has made the decision to stay. He tells that his father, who graduated as a veterinarian from Colorado State University in 1943, had foresight early on that Park City would likely be a resort town someday.
"From his experience in Colorado, he saw places like Estes Park and recognized the potential in Utah," Osguthorpe says. "When he came to Park City, he was the vet for horses used in the mines, and eventually he was able to buy seven ranches around Park City from 1945 to 1951.
"My dad always knew the potential of the area for recreation development," he adds.
But in the early years agriculture was the primary land use and the Osguthorpe family operated a dairy. Steve added sheep to the farm when he was in junior high. He then attended Utah State University and earned a degree in Animal Science before returning to the family farm and marrying his wife Vickie, a local Park City girl, in the 1970s. This generation of Osguthorpes continued to operate the dairy as they raised six sons and one daughter.
However, by the late 1980s, Park City began to develop around them. When the road needed to be widened, the Osguthorpe's 200-head dairy was taken through a process called condemnation. Then, through the same process, 40 acres of their land was taken for a middle school.
"We haven't sold any ground ? it's been taken through condemnation," says Osguthorpe.
Eventually, the Osguthorpes relocated their farm headquarters to the town of Delta 140 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. Today, this ranch serves as their winter location, where they also operate a feedlot for cattle and their Columbia-Rambouillet crossbred sheep. But in the summer months, livestock still graze up near Park City on Forest Service permits, and on the Osguthorpe land the ski resort now has access to through an easement.
"Our family made the decision if we were going to farm and ranch here, we had to get involved in recreation or else sell out and leave," Osguthorpe adds.
Making it Work
Despite the changing of the times from agricultural to developmental uses, the Osguthorpes have found ways to make the multiple land uses work.
First established as a small ski area, the resort that neighbored their land was bought out by the American Skiing Co. and renamed The Canyons about eight years ago. It was at that time development moved into high gear.
But to do so, the new resort needed more land, which the Osguthorpe family granted them access to through an easement. However, in making the arrangements, Osguthorpe, who serves as vice president of the Utah Farm Bureau and on the board of the Utah Grazingland Network, was able to be hired as a consultant in overseeing management of the land - and keeping the option to graze it.
"I was worried about the mountain streams, the wildlife and the grazing," he says. "When snow melts in spring, that's where we get our water. So I put that as a top priority to protect the land and the vegetation, even though the area was being developed."
For instance, as new ski runs were cut and lifts put in, he worked to develop a grass seed mix to quickly revegetate the slopes. As a result, Osguthorpe reports they now have more forage available than before the development, and he has actually been able to increase the number of sheep grazing the area.
Gary Gerth, field director of the Utah Grazingland Network, which is the state's 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization with a 15-member board of trustees, most of whom are ranchers or ranch managers, reports that Osguthorpe's reclamation efforts of these disturbed sites has been outstanding.
"They operate at an elevation where Canada thistle usually flourishes due to a soil disturbance, but very little thistle is to be seen," he says.
Osguthorpe's reseeding process includes broadcasting a grass-alfalfa mix over an area promptly after it has been disturbed. Then a 2-inch deep mulch of straw is hand-spread over the site, and sheep are trailed over the reseeded areas to work the seed into the soil. The following spring these areas are not grazed, and in time the introduced species give way to native species.
From his experiences, Osguthorpe says, "I am really in favor of management of land. Where we graze or log, we can see the benefits to the land. There is just more wildlife and more forage production."
A typical year now includes lambing the sheep near the ranch headquarters at Delta in early May, then moving the herd of about 3,000 to the ski resort by June 1. Some of the sheep may be moved to Forest permit allotments around July 1. The entire group then returns to the ski area to graze the ski runs in September and October. Roundups are conducted in the resort parking lot.
Guard dogs are also an important part of the operation, and are used to control mountain lions and coyotes.
"Without our guard dogs we wouldn't be in business today," Osguthorpe says.
While this family farm operation has endured amidst the winter ski runs and summer horseback and mountain bike trails, Osguthorpe says he hopes the biggest lesson to other producers and landowners is that multiple uses such as these can co-exist with livestock grazing.
(This article was provided as a courtesy of the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative. For more on GLCI, visit www.glici.org on the World Wide Web.)